Via El Planteo.
In the United States, the cannabis industry is moving full steam ahead while advocates of cannabis legalization at the federal level argue that taxes generated by the industry could be reinvested in communities criminalized for their relationship with the plant.
The reparation of the damages caused by years of racism and criminalization in these communities has a particular racial and economic framing, within social equity programs.
Social equity in the U.S. seeks to repair the damage caused by years of racism that segregates people of color and widens the economic gap between the white population with higher average purchasing power (and greater wealth accumulated over generations) and the rest of the population. In particular blacks and Latinos, with lower average purchasing power (with less accumulated wealth and very high financial risk).
Social equity programs could be read as a reform of the cannabis mode of production. However, social equity in the US does not pursue reforming the production system. Rather, it uses the tools of the industry itself to reclaim competitive spaces for racial minorities.
Among the organizations dedicated to this task is Cannaclusive, which, from a pragmatic and progressive perspective, understands that cannabis is a business and racial minorities are ready to get paid for it.
Arlene Pitterson is a marketer, an adjunct marketing instructor at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City and the organization's Director of Partnerships. In this position, Arlene is dedicated to connecting cannabis brands with the goal of educating, advocating and promoting the participation of people of color in the cannabis business.
Arlene describes social equity as a practice that seeks to ensure more than equality under the rule of law, to "pursue the three principles of what America is supposed to be about, life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,". More importantly, social equity in cannabis in the U.S. seeks to redress historical inequalities created by a history of discrimination against racial minorities.
"We were never equal. Women weren't even considered minorities, blacks weren't even considered human. That's how we came from independence, a time when everyone was supposed to be equal." explains Arlene, and offers an example using the case of two average college students, one black and one white.
"While both students may start out on an equal footing under the law, meaning both can go to school, in reality, on average, the white student starts out with an economic advantage over the rest: better resources, extracurricular assistance, and social capital, i.e., business contacts. Thus, social equity seeks to right those wrongs, so to speak, for lack of a better term."
Because cannabis is still illegal at the federal level, technically, you can't get a loan and start a cannabis business. So, many people turn to family wealth to start their own. But "that's not something you can't normally do within the black community, where the net worth of black or Hispanic families is on average ten times less than that of white families."
On average white families can draw on their close social network for a loan, on average their mortgage burden is less, and the ability to send their children to college (where they acquire greater social capital). All of these factors grant the white investor an advantage.
Arlene refers to the fact that many of the people within the cannabis industry in the United States have been systematically criminalized "while they were basically trying to circumvent the system, in order to survive".
The activist refers to the process of cannabis criminalization that swept the US since the early 20th century to stigmatize marijuana and its users. In particular to a racist propaganda campaign by the federal government, against Mexicans and blacks, mostly day laborers and longshoremen, who consumed a plant that whites were beginning to enjoy along with "the devil's music, which was jazz."
However, now they are accessing certain resources that "the rest of society always had."
"Nobody is looking for handouts. Statistically, the closer you are to being white, the easier it is for you to access certain things. We're asking society to recognize that one part of itself has an advantage over the rest, and to give others that opportunity to at least get a foot in the industry. It's literally a change in the American mindset," Arlene adds.
There are numerous initiatives for small businesses owned by racial minorities. However, you must qualify for the program and have a business plan.
"And that's where Cannaclusive comes in. We understand that business opportunities present themselves through your social network, but, if you're not part of a certain group in society, with resources, you don't have that opportunity to be part of those kinds of conversations, to join ventures. You don't even have time for those conversations if you work and study, or if you have a family to take care of. So we try to level the playing field."
This Is A Business
"You can have the best product in the world, but if you put your product in a plastic bag (one of those sandwich bags), and label it with a marker, no one is going to look at it. People don't care how good it is. And that goes for any product. It's not just the cannabis inside the bag, it's the value proposition what matters," Arlene says.
Cannaclusive seeks to educate people about the fact that cannabis is a business. That is to say that, to be in the industry, it takes more than just willpower.
The organization advocates for training activists in legislation, "so that they can be part of the regulatory process through the legislators who have voted".
To bridge this gap, "Cannaclusive educates, advocates and promotes black and brown people to be in the cannabis industry, to have more than just legal opportunities, to have access to money to compete in the industry," says Arlene.
Cannaclusive raises funds, promotes access to credit for black-owned and women-owned small businesses, and donates to organizations dedicated to formulating curricula in the cannabis business, marketing and branding, as well as training for the proper enforcement of legal and phytosanitary regulations for the production of cannabis and its derivatives.
One of the initiatives that Cannaclusive supports is accelerators. In conjunction with a number of cannabis companies (multi-state operators), the organization raises funds to incubate projects, based on funding targets, which so far fluctuate between u$s 20,000 and u$s 100,000, and reach organizations such as Supernova Women, which is organizing business training in Detroit, Michigan.
Meanwhile, Arlene emphasizes that there are a variety of entrepreneurial training sessions and governments are increasingly looking to create more equity programs, because they are aware of this green fever and, because they know about the contribution of cannabis workers to the economy.
However, Arlene notes that in order to have a mature industry, regulators must "get serious about the semantics of what they are regulating, because the industry is advancing rapidly around the world. They can't keep asking the family physician for advice on the emergence of a new transnational industry. We have multiple scientific studies that can steer the debate in a progressive direction."
New York 420: Legal Adult-Use Cannabis In The Big Apple
In the last 3 years, the city saw the emergence of a plethora of CBD stores, dispensaries, where you can buy all kinds of hemp products and dried cannabis flowers with high CBD content.
And while cannabis can now be transported and consumed in the streets and parks of the city, there are still no dispensaries open to the public that, without a prescription, dispense dried flowers or THC extracts that deliver psychoactive effects.
Arlene believes that, until all the counties that make up the state adhere to the new legislation, legalization will proceed piecemeal.
New York County (Manhattan), Kings County (Brooklyn), Bronx County (The Bronx) and Queens County (Queens) will be the districts that are on the way to adhere to this historic reform that authorizes adult users to responsible and informed consumption of a wide range of cannabis products with THC, with psychoactive potential that will be available in dispensaries and "consumption bars".
In addition, the activist believes that the legalization process in the state will proceed as counties see that their neighbors are collecting taxes, crime is not increasing and patients have access to health care.
And she recalls that "now, marijuana is no longer a weed, it's 'cannabis,' it's therapeutic and people are using it to deal with their stress."
According to Arlene, many of these CBD stores "are basically there to hold a physical space in the real estate market until cannabis is approved at the county level before the end of the year."
Here's one of the problems Cannaclusive sees with the industry's outbreak in New York, as the average business owner, small business owner, will never have the money "to sit on a property for five years."
-With new consumers entering the market and weed selling as a fad, how do you think local businesses will compete?
-Just like with alcohol, you have people who are going to buy a brand imported from Europe no matter what and you're going to have people buying Titos made in Texas. In that sense, eventually, the market can even out.
You can get liquor in a bodega or from a person behind bulletproof glass, or you can go to the wine store in town to get your fancy bottle or the neighborhood store to get your boutique bottle. It's the same product, what changes is the value.
-Do you think some of the most popular companies in the U.S. will come to Brooklyn?
-Yes, I have no doubt. And they are all competing for space in the borough. Every one of them wants to be in New York. And New York is the biggest market there will be.
-When do you think the big brands will land in the city?
-When New York's laws are passed 100 percent. Next year, you're going to see an avalanche. It's just going to happen, it's going to be inevitable. We're the next green frontier. Everybody went west for gold, now everybody's coming east for green.
Everybody's talking about Colorado, right? Like you have to go to Colorado and go there to get the potent stuff. But they're still fighting for social equity.
New York has learned from other places and our black and brown legislators have understood that the same thing can't happen. The money, from taxes and from sales, has to go back to the Bed-Stuy, to Flatbush, to East New York and the communities that have been systematically disenfranchised.
- Original publication: September 10, 2021
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